Sunday, April 09, 2006

The School Cafeteria Restaurant

A Boston-area public high school is opening a 45-seat restaurant within its halls:
The new Cambridge Rindge and Latin School restaurant, Falcon's Nest, run by culinary arts students, soon will be the city's latest in casual dining.

The Rindge School of Technical Arts will unveil the 45-seat restaurant this spring, serving pastries and coffee to staff in the morning, a lunch menu that will change daily, counter service for sandwiches, and dinners to go.

''We're trying to give students meaningful and rigorous experiences," said Michael Ananis, executive director of the Technical Arts school, the high school's vocational program.

''We're trying to stay on the cutting edge for students," said chef and instructor Rick McKinney, ''and this will give them an opportunity to see a completely run operation."

Students in the three-year culinary arts program already prepare lunches Wednesday through Friday for staff who place orders in the morning. Falcon's Nest will expand service to every day, but the current $3-$4 prices will remain the same, Ananis said.

And staff will be able to place orders for dinner -- such as roasted chicken and mashed potatoes -- to pick up at 3 p.m. and bring home, he said.

The name, Falcon's Nest, comes from the Cambridge Rindge and Latin mascot and the orientation of the space it will occupy -- the mezzanine level overlooking the cafeteria. It was formerly an underused teachers' lounge. Ananis said the restaurant should be up and running before the end of the school year. He's in the process of branding napkins and takeout boxes with the restaurant's logo.

Sixty students participate in the culinary arts program, one of 10 offered through the career and technical education division of the high school. They must master a set of 200 competencies over 1,200 hours. Most students begin as sophomores.

In their first year, at level one, students learn to chop, dice, braise, boil, and other basic techniques. By their senior year, at level three, most students have mastered the basics, and course work focuses on getting industry-based certifications that most restaurants demand of chefs. They also prepare their final project -- a 10-course meal for 100 guests, including family members, instructors, and the school principal -- based on the history and cuisine of one region. This year they studied China.

The program is one of only 77 high school programs in the country certified by the American Culinary Federation, Ananis said.

The students may get another real-world experience by helping to run the now-closed restaurant at the city's municipal golf course. Councilor Michael A. Sullivan proposed the idea during a recent City Council meeting.

''We want something that will celebrate the abilities of these students," Sullivan said.

Students already regularly cater lunches for Rindge and Latin school meetings. The superintendent or principal will suggest a broad category, such as sandwiches, and the students will create menus. They also served several hundred people lunch and dinner when Harvard College held a debate at the high school, and they regularly provide School Committee meetings with desserts. ''We get millions of requests for our cookies," Ananis said, ''especially from the mayor."

Students calculate food costs and order from vendors when catering. They charge clients for the ingredients, plus a 20 percent fee, which goes into a fund to purchase tools and equipment.
Reading this has made me hungry.

I like the idea of students working in their school's food services division; I think it's healthy for 'em. The idea of a school restaurant, when part of a bona-fide school curriculum, strikes me as a win-win situation.

Good for them.
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